History of Contemporary Canadian Jewellery

The history of contemporary Canadian jewellery, like that of Canada itself, has struggled with the assimilation of foreign influences, economies and cultures as well as the insecurities of the Canadian temperament in its search for a national definition and identity.

In probing this history, we can find threads of development—people, organizations, events—which have been instrumental in partially resolving these conflicts and creating the determination and vitality of the current jewellery scene. In the following article I shall pick up a few of these threads, examine them and endeavour to stitch a historical tapestry which will serve to produce an image of this cultural phenomenon.

In Toronto in 1946, a group of metal enthusiasts, both professional and amateur, formed the Metal Arts Guild. This signal event can be seen as the original seed of an attempt at a unified brotherhood of metalsmiths in Canada (see Metalsmith, Spring 84, page 43). The first members and directors included Harold Stacey, known as “Canada’s silversmith” (see article in this issue), Andrew Fussell, who operated his own workshop, Douglas Boyd, Jack Sullivan, Marjorie Steel, Nancy Meek Pocock and John Pocock, who ran their own jewellery studio in Toronto, which was, incidentally, the only such studio in Canada in the year of its establishment, 1938.

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The need for such a coming together was obvious, “to promote and encourage the cultural and commercial development of metal arts and crafts both ferrous and non-ferrous.” Their originally stated aims were high, nothing short of a Canadian version of the English Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths with all of that institution’s attendant rites, roles and rituals. Having rightly abandoned some of those colonial aims, the Guild is today functioning as an organizer of visiting artists and lecturers and as the founder and presenter of the “Medium is Metal” series of exhibitions, the sole permanent showcase for jewellery in Canada. The Metal Arts Guild is cohosting, with the Ontario Crafts Council, the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference In June, 1985, which also marks the 39th anniversary of the “Medium is Metal” shows, a testament to the continuing vitality of the guild.

Theo Jansen, Neckpiece, patinated copper, braid, 1981.

One of the first significant metalsmiths to emerge in Canada during the late 50s was Canadian-born Lois Etherington Betteridge, who graduated from the University of Kansas in 1951, a time when no post-secondary metal courses existed in Canada. After a short stint operating her own studio in Oakville, Ontario, she enrolled at Cranbrook Academy of Art and received her M.F.A. in 1956. Since then she has produced a prodigious body of work, with an unmistakable hand, which has earned much acclaim and honour here. She has also been a generous and busy instructor as well as a great promoter of Canadian metalwork. A second important maker in Canada was Dutch immigrant and European-trained metalsmith Hero Kielman, who arrived in Canada in 1953. His contribution consists of both a large body of work (primarily holloware) a 25-year teaching career. Kielman was also one of the founding members of the Society of North American Goldsmiths (see Metalsmith, Winter 81, page 6).

The 60s ushered in an age of relative affluence, social stability, optimism, high employment, the development of a consumer society and, perhaps most notably, the rise to cultural dominance of the middle class, which resulted in the redefining of the idea of “commodity.” Creative jewellery, as opposed to traditional goldsmiths’ work or industrial production, was beginning to be slowly recognized. DeBeers instituted its “Diamonds International” competitions, which gave impetus and support for more contemporary efforts (though the idea was to sell diamonds). In 1946, the first important exhibition of national metalwork was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a great boost for the pioneers of contemporary jewellery in the United States, such as Olaf Skoogfors, Sam Kramer, Phillip Fike, Margaret de Patta, Philip Morton and others. It also inspired the Walker Art Center shows in Minneapolis held in 1948, 1955 and 1959. A landmark exhibition, due primarily to the great efforts of Graham Hughes of Goldsmiths’ Hall, was held in 1961 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Entitled the “First International Exhibition of Contemporary Jewellery,” it also yielded the important book Modern Jewellery, the first archival documentation of the field whose impact was felt internationally. Then began a small explosion of jewellery shows and exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. Of great importance to Canada was “Jewellery, 71,” its first international exhibition of contemporary jewellery. The show was organized by the prestigious Art Gallery of Ontario and curated by Renée Neu of New York, a member of the curatorial staff of the Museum of Modern Art, who had directed the 1967 exhibition “Jewellery by Contemporary Painters and Sculptors.” Apart from the profile of the venue, and the opportunity for metalworkers to view the then current directions in jewellery, it was the first time that Canadian jewellery had been included in such an arena. Of 118 artists shown, 36 were Canadians, although of this group many were sculptors who contributed jewellery made especially for the occasion. Included among the professional jewellers were Haakon Bakken, Lois Betteridge, Reeve Perkins, Christel Klocke, Bill Reid and Orland Larson.

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Pamela Ritchie, Fortification shoulder brooch, wood, stamps, 19 x 5.5 cm, 1984

The 60s saw slow but steady growth in Canada. For the following brief discussion of Québec activity in this period, the non-Canadian reader must understand Québec’s unique political and cultural situation. This huge province’s population is primarily French-speaking, and this fact, along with fears of total English cultural domination, has resulted in a long and bitter history of mutual suspicion, hostility and paranoia. This has led to Québec’s embracing an isolationist consciousness, the worst effect of which has been a case of near xenophobia regarding cultural and political influence from English-speaking Canada. As a result, jewellery exchanges of ideas, personalities and exhibitions have been glaringly absent. This situation still exists today, but it is hoped that future national forums and exhibitions will break the ice. Even though Québec’s distinguished metal history goes back to Colonial times, it was in the 60s that Québec (particularly Montréal) made important gains in the jewellery field with the arrival on the scene of the Spanish-born Walter Schleup and the Belgian émigré Armand Brochard. With their traditional goldsmithing skills and awareness of contemporary design trends in Europe, they contributed much to Montréal’s golden age of jewellery design.

At this time Montréal was by far the leading fashion and cosmopolitan center of Canada, Toronto still being mired in its puritanical Presbyterian ways (a situation that changed dramatically in the 70s, with Toronto becoming the cultural center. This situation arose for a variety of complicated reasons, not the least of which was the ground Montréal lost in population, finance and cultural funding with the exodus from the province after the election of a separatist government). In addition to Brochard and Schleup, the Canadian-born Madelaine Danserau, who had trained in the United States and Italy, began making jewellery. Her work with mokume gane and photoetching became discernible influence on her students at l’Atelier de Joaillerie, an independent goldsmithing school that she founded with Brochard in Montréal. The school attracted graduates and associates, such as Louis Jacques Suzor, Claudette Hardy-Pilon and Ghislaine Fauteux-Langlois, ensuring the continuation of Québec jewellery styles. Among other notable presences currently in Québec are. Gloria Bass, Janis Kerman and Lisa Fortin.

Pamela Whynot, The Big Bite, steel, sterling silver, 7.5 x 4.5 cm, 1983
Photo: Jeremy Jones

Two new faces arrived on the scene in the late 60s. In 1966, the Berlin-trained goldsmith Christel Klocke emigrated and by 1968 was appointed Head of Jewellery at George Brown College in Toronto, replacing Hero Kielman, who was to soon establish a rival department at Toronto’s Humber College in 1975. Klocke was instrumental in forging a close working relationship with the jewellery trade, as well as offering vocational and technical emphasis in metal education. In 1968, Neil Carrick Aird, a graduate of the Glasgow Art School, emigrated, having been offered a resident designer-goldsmith job in Kingston at Kinnear & d’Esterre. By this time Aird had established his distinctive style and love of technical experimentation—(he was one of the first to use refractory metal.) He began teaching at St. Lawrence College on a part-time basis, and in 1977 he opened his own studio-gallery Metalworks, in Kingston, which displays the work of several Canadian artist-jewellers as well as his own. Mention must also be made here of Bill Reid who has done much to revive the symbols and motifs of West Coast native mythology in his internationally known jewellery.

Very little art jewellery of international calibre was being made in Canada at this time. However, in 1967, Canadian cultural and national history took a giant step forward. It was our centennial year. Expo. Trudeau. Michael Snow Marshall McLuhan. Joni Mitchell. Neil Young. Leonard Cohen. A sense of national identity and unity of purpose emerged, as well as a massive youth movement, which seemed poised to overthrow the technocracy and completely overhaul society. Canada also gained from its newest citizens: the flood of American intellectuals and college graduates resisting the Vietnam war. The baby-boom group was about to be heard. “The times they are a-changin’,” Dylan sang. The belief that we were hovering on the verge of a new humanistic, peaceful and just age was commonly accepted—we were soon to rudely discover what Marx’s notion of “false consciousness” meant.

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Martha Glenny, Brooch, sterling silver, 18k gold, diamonds, cobolite, in quartzite, 9 x 6 cm, 1984

Nonetheless, the 60s zeitgeist influenced jewellery in two distinct ways: 1) the psychedelic sensibility embraced hibal life, bright colours, primitivism and a new sense of the body and its meanings, which resulted in renewed interest in human, especially male, decoration (witness bright acrylics, beads and amulets, neck jewellery for suits), and 2) to the advantage of all crafts, the often deliberately obfuscatory nature of that period’s fine art (minimalism, conceptualism, idea art, happenings, etc.) was alienating, often subversive and incomprehensible to many observers and collectors. To the collector, always in need of tangible objects, the new artist-craftsman became extremely attractive. The work was fresh, informed, relatively straightforward, accessible and best of all, affordable.

Another development (which has proved a regression) of this period was the craft fair, those wastelands of mediocrity that arose with a vengeance due partly to the hippie hordes responding to the cue of “doing your own thing,” and also to the dearth, in Canada as in the United States, of professional galleries and informed retailers to promote seriously the best work. One of the first to offer an alternate solution to this problem was Letki Designs established by Paula and Michael Letki in 1969. The Letkis simply set up shop as independent jewelers and designers, offering only their own work and conferring training and opportunities to graduate jewellery students as the need arose. After 16 years they are still in existence.

Charles Lewton-Brain, Brooch, 24k gold, gold double, sterling silver, brass, copper, aluminum, 8 cm
Photo: Jeremy Jones

An extremely important social and intellectual legacy of the 60s was the resurfacing of feminism. While far-reaching culturally, feminism’s focus for the art and craft movement was its rejection of male-dominated aesthetics and its pointed interrogation of the entire patriarchal art scene—from the way art is taught, to the critical reception of works, to actual praxis. Feminism also contributed greatly to the reexamination and additional development of a much less sexist and traditionally more “feminine” domain, crafts. It also contributed to the rising respectability of women’s endeavours in these mediums, one need only think of the quilts of Joyce Weiland, or the Judy Chicago show, “The Dinner Party.” (Though as an historical aside let us not forget that metalsmithing has had an odious record of sexism, from the lack of training and hiring of women to the repugnant and socially reprehensible marketing and sexist advertising still used in the selling of diamonds and gold, both in Canada and abroad.)

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This resurgence of craft interest placed pressure on the provincial governments to establish adequate training facilities, witnessed by the rapid increase of diploma courses. In 1967, the Sheridan College School of Craft and Design was established. Haakon Baaken (from the School of American Craftsmen) was hired to set up the jewellery program, and it soon became necessary for him to recruit Philip Morton from Minnesota to join the faculty. With fantastic excitement and energy the ceramic, textile, wood and later glass and metal studios began the training of many new students. The school was well located just outside of Toronto, and the Bauhaus rigours taught by instructors who were also prominent working artists, combined with “arms-length” policy from the main campus, created an unparalleled atmosphere for a few years. Sadly, things have deteriorated badly since then, and among other disappointments the metal and weaving studios are to be eliminated next year. For a few years, though, waves of excellent craftsmen graduated, and their exposure to a stream of visiting international artists opened up new horizons. In metal, Louis Tortell, Sherry Otterway, Maureen Wilson, Lyn Wiggins and Beverly de Jong stand out as important artists who were associated with Sheridan. Stylistically, the metal department was not doctrinaire, hence, there was not an apparent Sheridan style.

David Didur, Untitled, brooch, ebony and oil paint, 8 x 2.7 cm, 1984

During this time Morton initiated discussions with Hero Kielman and Orland Larson and their American counterparts, which resulted in the formation of the Society of North American Goldsmiths in 1970. Morton departed in 1969 to be replaced by Bill Ottemiller from Alaska, who will remain head of department until its cessation in 1986. Between 1971 and 1976 another American craftsman Harold O’Connor set up a revamped metals program at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary. It is ironic that Canadian metal began to be noticed as a force in jewellery due to the participation of O’Connor in international shows, as the following quote from Ralph Turner’s superb volume “Contemporary Jewelry” (London, 1976) illustrates:

“Canadian jewelry, like that of Australia and South Africa, has to a large extent been neglected, as much Canadian work reflects what goes on in the U.S.A. A notable exception, Harold O’Connor does original work that owes little to other American artists.”

James Evans, 13 Reasons, stickpins, gauze, stainless steel, thread, 1981
Photo: Jeremy Jones

In the early 70s, metal programs were widespread: aside from Christel Klocke, Akira Ikegami and the enamellist Alan Perkins at George Brown College, there was Helga Palko at Algonquin College, Donald Stuart at Georgian College, Jack Sullivan followed by Faye Rooke and Beth Alber at the Ontario College of Art, Neil Aird at St. Lawrence College, Hero Kielman, Dieter Huebner and, for a short while, Randall Gunther at Humber College. Metal studios also existed at the New Brunswick Craft School and the Holland College of Art in Charlottetown. But the most important development was the establishment of B.F.A. and M.F.A., with a jewellery major, at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1971, a program initiated by the energetic Orland Larson, who headed that studio until replaced in 1977 by Christian Gaudernack. Larson went on to become the head of jewellery of the Alberta College of Art in 1981.

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All of this activity could have only one delirious outcome—a cornucopia of sophisticated, technically competent and original Canadian craftsmen and women. The many names and stories of this group of graduates from the various schools would necessitate an article of their own. Here a small number who have developed a unique style and continue to make significant contributions will be discussed, including Louis Tortell, Charles Lewton-Brain, David Didur, Pamela Ritchie and Kai Chan.

James Evans, Brooches, painted stainless steel, 1984

Louis Tortell’s work has always shown technical mastery and his love of precious materials, the result of his day job as a goldsmith in a traditional shop. While in the past he has been the most obvious exponent of ornamentation and almost Baroque decorative flourishes, in the last two years an aesthetic purge seems to have taken place and he has been busy withdrawing elements. He has recently developed a unique series of bracelets incorporating stainless steel and hand-painted silk, which, while minimal, still retains an intense focus on surface detail. While his early work had a profound influence on some of his immediate colleagues and set high standards, he himself has continued to make advances.

Charles Lewton-Brain’s work displays first and foremost his evident love of process. Having toured much of the world in quest of traditional and contemporary goldsmiths’ lore and methods, he has amassed much information on working methods, especially in surface decoration. His work reflects this attraction by his use of chasing, repoussé, metal colouring techniques and especially in his repeated use of the doublé surface. David Didur’s work, both in scale and execution, illustrates his dual attraction (and attempts to resolve this attraction) to two media—sculpture and jewellery. He often makes the same work in two sizes, with varying results. But the concerns of space and form have always been primary in his pieces, as well as an elegance, almost preciousness, of execution. His attraction to the work of David Smith, Anthony Caro and Julio Gonzalez has often been evident and has sometimes been inhibiting, but he has nonetheless produced a consistent and unique oeuvre.

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Anne Barros, Tut Pendant, sterling silver, feather, 1980
Photo: Schat r.g.

Very recent work seems to indicate a resolution of this conflict: Didur’s painted wood brooches are extremely successful statements, incorporating attention to surface, dimensional illusionism and colour. While Pamela Ritchie will remain important simply as the second Canadian to receive an M.F.A. in jewellery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (there have been only two), and as the current head of the department at that prominent school, her own evolution as a jewellery artist has been significant. From her coupling of feminist and conceptual concerns in earlier work (see Metalsmith, Winter 83, page 37) to her recent extended series “Cancelled Icons,” which questions the ideas of “value” and “commodity” in the traditional understanding of those notions regarding jewellery, she has been able to effect an interrogation rather than a resolution. Questions of Canada’s own cultural appropriations and cultural integrity have surfaced in this series as well (see review in this issue).

Kai Chan’s work is in a category of its own. Having come from an interior design background and being well known and frequently exhibited internationally as a textile artist, he has lately put medium and material to body and has, like Lam de Wolf in Holland, created a challenging and unique body of work. The international response has been fantastic—he has been represented in most of the major international exhibitions of the last two years, as well as being shown at important galleries in Europe and Japan. During my recent trip to Europe I discovered that he seemed to be Canada’s most known artist-jeweller, a challenging notion for jewellers due to the fact that he has no background in jewellery and commenced working in the field only three years ago. This serves to illustrate that vision, originality and freedom from formal training in metalwork can sometimes be uninhibiting as well as a delightful luxury and uninhibiting device.

Neil Carrick Aird, Sawform III, brooch, 18k gold, sterling silver, 1983.

As mentioned earlier, significant contributions have been made by many others, but I would be remiss if I did not mention in passing works by Zoe Lucas, Andrew and Sandra Goss, J. Maureen Wilson, Bev de Jong, Sherry Otterway, Martha Glenny and Richard Karpyshin. Nonetheless, it is a truism of the Canadian scene that none of these artists may be said to have a stylistic or aesthetic sway or impact on their fellows. There are simply not the dominant influences from within, as opposed to what often happens in the United States where recognizable schools (in the historic and academic sense) are often easily discernible. The cause of this situation in Canada can be traced to the lack of national exposure the artists receive, the distance between centers of activity the lack of a national crafts journal, the inadequate number of schools (and their small visiting artists budget) and, finally, to the tendency for Canadians to look exclusively outside of the country for influences. It appears from recent student work, though, that this situation is changing.

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To add fuel to this 70s fire, many international artists were being brought to Canada to show work or to demonstrate the technical innovations of the time, such as electroforming, refractory metal colouration, die-forming and the much used (and abused) incorporation of acrylic materials. Aesthetically, a shift was in the air. One aspect of this shift was that the organic gold wart style of jewellery had run its natural course and was giving way to geometric severity and minimalism. The sensual surrendered to the austere. Much of this influence can be linked to the arrival in Canada of Christian Gaudernack in 1977 who became the head of jewellery in Nova Scotia. Gaudernack had trained at the Kunst und Werkschule in Pforzheim, Germany under Klaus Ulrich and was a third-generation goldsmith. He brought strong European references, an awareness of and sympathies with the advanced jewellery of the time and connections to the European metal community. His encouragement of experimentation and the excellent program of exchange artists, instructors and students created a dynamic and provocative studio, soon to be established as a leader in producing fresh, new work.

Louis Tortell, Bracelet, stainless steel, copper alloys, silver, gold, silk, 13 cm d
Photo: Jeremy Jones

Another development of the 70s was a new confidence in the opening of jewellery studios and craft galleries. Monica Harhay and Vanessa Compton set up Studio Jewellers in Toronto and were soon joined by Theo Jansen and later Sherry Otterway. The venture lasted until 1983, when Monica went on to establish Harhay-McKay Jewellers. This new enterprise, located in Toronto’s chic and pricey Bloor St. district, is making an impact in professional retailing of Canadian-designed jewellery, though the market is having its effect by demanding more fashion-orientated work. Of three serious craft galleries that opened in Toronto at this time, only one, Prime Canadian Crafts, survives today (see Metalsmith, Fall 80, page 48). Rhoda Lipton’s Shetani Gallery and Jim Weiss’s Dexterity, regrettably, both opened and closed their doors in a five-year period, as did the Grange Gallery. The survivor, Prime, opened in 1979 by Suzann Greenaway, has been supportive of contemporary Canadian jewellery, having had special exhibitions of the work of MacAleese and Wiggins, Mimi Schulman, James Evans and group shows, including the important national juried show “Jewellery in Transition,” held in 1983 (see Metalsmith, Spring 84, page 42). Prime also maintains a permanent collection of contemporary jewellery on display.

As to the 80s, Canada has just experienced a major shift in national politics. Fueled by economic recession and total disillusionment with Trudeau, a right-leaning and Conservative government has just been swept into power. How this is likely to affect the cultural sphere may already be seen by the recent slashing of the Canada Council budget (a multimillion dollar arts funding body that purchases art for its Art Bank and otherwise funds all art activities in Canada; once considered a model arts funding program by the United States and other Western countries) and by their chopping by 75 million dollars the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation budget (the C.B.C., a radio and television broadcasting unit, whose mandate is to expose Canadians to Canadian perspectives in arts, letters and news, is one of the few alternatives for Canadians from the almost total domination and saturation of the airwaves by American broadcasting).

Neil Carrick Aird, Kite, brooch, sterling silver, 18k yellow gold, niobium, 1983

As far as other predictable repercussions in cultural affairs, it is simply too early to tell, but the notion of slashing arts funding is certain to appeal to the new government. But this shift notwithstanding, where do crafts stand? For one thing, contemporary ceramics, glass and fibre have been increasingly “elevated” to fine art status and enjoy some of the benefits thereof: worthiness of gallery/museum exhibition, support and patronage. They are also able to elicit a certain critical credibility, however, uncomfortable some cynical critics and art historians may feel about them. Why has jewellery lagged behind? A variety of answers can be advanced, but I think that ceramic, glass and fibre works have been more readily accepted as independent art objects dissociated from their historic functional associations than jewellery which continues to be perceived as relating to (and in conjunction with) a body. Also, curators commonly believe that to build a jewellery collection would entail tremendous cost (including insurance) due to an expectation that all jewellery is made with gold and diamonds. A third simple reason is that contemporary ceramic, glass and fibre work has already proven to be profitable and resaleable at auction, something which is only true in jewellery for art nouveau (no longer contemporary) and art deco works.

Dutch, British, German and American contemporary jewellers have received considerable attention and acclaim by virtue of careful promotion, thoughtful presentation, monetary support and, most significantly, first-rate exhibitions and catalogues. All of this is noticeably absent in Canada. Fortunately, crafts journalism does exist in the constantly evolving periodical Ontario Craft, published by the Ontario Crafts Council, but its mandate is to cover Ontario, not the entire country.

Stephanie Amos, Brooch, niobium, steel, 8 x 4 cm, 1983
Photo: Jeremy Jones

The appearance of the serious contemporary jewellery gallery (usually operated by artist-jewellers themselves) has been one of the most encouraging world trends. Avant-garde jewellery galleries, such as Galerie Ra in Amsterdam, Spektrum, Ventil and Cada in Munich, V&V in Vienna, VO Galerie in Washington and, the great survivor, Electrum in London, could not survive in any Canadian city due to lack of an audience. Nonetheless, since the early 70s Canadians have been exposed to and some have experimented with invisible jewellery anti-jewellery self-destroying jewellery self-referential jewellery environmental jewellery and other explorations in the field, and future exhibitions will have to take notice and respond.

Canadians have always felt insecure, harbouring a legendary national and cultural inferiority complex that runs deep, due to being wedged between two cultural giants, the United States and England. Canadian arts and letters are filled with volumes exploring this subject, as exemplified in Margaret Atwood’s statement “If the mental illness of the United States is megalomania that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.”

Neil Carrick Aird, Sawform I
Sterling silver, 18k and 24k golds, niobium, aluminum, diamond, 1983

Most readily apparent today is the increasingly fragmentary nature of the jewellery community. Jewellers from academic backgrounds tend to embrace and be influenced by recent international developments, while others all too often tend to deprecate, deny or simply dismiss these developments. This leads to misunderstanding, under-appreciation and accusations on both sides. While this dichotomy is not unique to Canada, it becomes very apparent due to the fact that the jewellery community is comprised of tightly knit groups centered in only three or four cities. Furthermore, this closeness seriously impedes the development of an honest and objective critical evaluation or appraisal.

Another recent phenomenon is the subgroup of jewellers who have either shifted their focus to, or have always been committed to, designing and developing lines of work for the fashion market exclusively. However laudable this strategy, it sometimes thrives on appropriations from the other groups which can be marketed effectively and sold at a much lower cost, thus undermining the integrity, intellect and intention of the original. In such a close atmosphere, this borrowing is readily discernible and can become a source of aggravation and frustration. It is obvious that all three groups have different needs, wants, attitudes and goals, and while the notion of the common good currently prevails, I predict deepening chasms which, perhaps, simply indicate the necessary growing pains of a healthy scene.

Kai Chan, Multiples, neckpiece, cinnamon stick, thread, 1983
Photo: George Whiteside

A more insidious current event has been the cessation of several academic jewellery programs. Having been established in such robust conditions just 15 years ago, the programs have already lost favour in the educational cycle. Algonquin College, Humber College, Seneca College and, finally, Sheridan College programs have all come under the axe in the name of more expeditious uses of funds (read “computer courses”). The worst implications of this for Canadian jewellery apart from the generally disheartening atmosphere it produces is: Where will a new generation of artist-jewellers arise? And will the present crop of qualified Canadian artists ever be able to find a teaching position? At this writing there are only three full-time jewellery departments left in Canada. These are at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, and the George Brown College in Toronto, and these three departments are so geographically, philosophically and politically separate that very little student or professional interaction takes place. It is hoped that this situation might be remedied soon.

So, at a time when Canadian artist-jewellers are gaining international recognition and the jewellery movement is larger and more assured than ever, we are experiencing culturus interruptus of a sort. In the last couple of years artists such as Kai Chan, Pamela Ritchie, Martha Glenny, Louis Tortell, Charles Lewton-Brain, James Evans, Richard Karpyshin and Kati Basford have represented Canadian jewellery in such major exhibitions as the “Tokyo Tliennial”, “Schmuck and Gerat,” “Jewelry International,” “Contemporary Jewellery of the Americas, Australia, Europe and Japan” and “Jewellery Redefined,” not to mention inclusion in many competitions and periodicals. This exposure can only have positive effects on the whole community. However, unlike in certain progressive museums and galleries in Europe, Japan, America and Australia no attention has been paid to contemporary jewellery in terms of comprehensive exhibits or purchases for collection in Canada.

Peter Lawrence, Brooch, straw, oxidized sterling silver, 14k gold, 4 x 5 cm, 1982
Photo: Jeremy Jones

In contrast to, and perhaps in spite of, the above negative developments, a positive, increasingly secure, more confident and robust feeling is in the air. A feeling of coming into our own prevails. The Canadian penchant for observation of international trends seems to have paid dividends in that recent Canadian work represents a hybrid of European and American styles, which causes it to be unique. The “Good as Gold” conference held in Toronto last year and the upcoming Society of North American Goldsmiths’ conference are direct outcomes of this feeling of well-being. There simply would not have been the assuredness, manpower or unity to have pulled these events together seven years ago. The fact of Canada’s feeling “in the world” rather than just “of the world” is a great step forward.

The Canadian jewellery community needs only at this point to not lose energy or ground gained. It must dig in. It must be aware and proud of how far it has come in a short 40 years. It must busy itself at raising national and international consciousness; developing the work itself. It must attempt to resolve counterproductive squabbles and interior isolations and be tireless in attempting to gain interest and financial support from cultural institutions and private sector sponsors. One thing though seems certain. Canadian jewellery has arrived.

James Evans is an artist-jeweller living and working in Toronto. He has exhibited his work internationally and has been a visiting artist and lecturer on contemporary Canadian and European work. He has also written on the subject for a variety of periodicals.

By James Evans
Metalsmith Magazine - 1985 Spring
In association with SNAG's
Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.
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